You gotta get a Home Server!


My first “home server” was in 1992 – it was NetWare 3.11 and I distinctly remember paying $1,000 for the 1GB 5.25″ full-height SCSI drive that would hold all of my data.  I was working on my CNE certification and wanted some experience at home, while I studied.  I vaguely recall having to go to Adaptec’s BBS to get drivers for my 1540 SCSI card for my 386/25 motherboard and ARCnet card.  Add to that my first keyboard/monitor switch so I could share with my peripherals and the journey began.

Fast forward fifteen years…

This weekend, I bought an HP MediaSmart 470 – a 500GB self-contained Windows Home Server for $600.

I am decommissioning my latest “home server”, which is a monster tower, with lots of spanned and/or duplexed hard drives, running Windows Server 2003, acting as a domain controller, web server, and Virtual Server host. 

  • For me, this means that I now have my testbed for Windows Server 2008 with Hyper-V
  • For my wife and kids, this means that our “home server” (no pun intended) will now be reliable


First impressions:

It is small.  It is barely wide enough for a standard 3.5″ disk – and is less than a foot tall.  And since it doesn’t require a monitor or keyboard, I can literally put it anywhere where I have an Ethernet jack.

It is quiet.  In my lab, along with all of my work machines, I have my old server (plus redundant domain controller), networking, and a mass of other stuff.  So, it can get hot in my office, particularly during the Texas summer.  Having lost machines before due to heat, my old server is a full-size tower with 6 extra fans built into the chassis.  It stays cool, but also provides white noise all the time and sucks quite a bit of electricity. 

This new Home Server has a vented chassis, has low power-consumption and does not require a wind tunnel to stay running.

It is expandable.  The unit comes with 4 drive bays, one of which has the 500GB disk.  The first thing I did after it was configured was add two new 320GB SATA drives.  Windows Home Server (WHS) provides native duplication functionality for important directories and shares, so I wanted to add one right away.  And as I moved over all of the data areas from our old server, it was just too easy.  Open the front hinged door and it has 3 spare drive trays (no screwdriver required).  The drives clicked into pins built in to the trays, and slid back in.  Power it up and there were the disks.  It is intended to take eSATA and USB external drives as well, but so far, I’m in good shape.

It works.  Within 30 minutes of opening the box, I had it configured, had my first workstation connected and was moving data into it.  On bare metal, I can’t install an OS in 30 minutes!!!   For the record, while Home Server is not in my product set (and am kind of wishing that it was now), Storage Server is.  Storage Server is a business-class file-sharing and and block “appliance”.  I must confess that as much as I’ve preached how easy an appliance is to deploy with my head, my heart hadn’t experienced the reality of it.  But 30 minutes from cardboard to function is pretty freakin’ cool.

Coolest Features so far    Xbox360_console

and my guess is that there will be more blog posts as I play with this thing.

Xbox connectivity – my family has two Xbox360’s (one in our kids’ game room, and one in my bedroom).  We’ve wanted to stream music and photo’s for a long while now, but it wasn’t practical.  At one point, I tried running a Windows Media Center PC in a virtual machine within in my Server.  But that was undependable at best.  I couldn’t run a real Media Center PC because it needed to be a member of my domain to work with the rest of my network. 

Now, everything just works.  Both Xbox’s found it immediately.  It means our bedroom now has immediate access to all of our music without searching for CDs.  And we can show family pictures from the game room’s large TV, instead of huddling around my wife’s computer monitor.

Remote Access – speaking of pictures.  The first person that I reached out to when I had finished setting everything up was my father-in-law.  We gave him a user-name, password, and the URL for our server — and within minutes, he was browsing all of our family photo’s.  My sons are in cub scouts and we did lots of cool scout stuff this weekend.  He was able to see all of the pictures for the event as soon as we dropped them out of the camera.  No emailing, no “posting”.  And now, over the next several weeks, I am hoping that he will start uploading his photo’s from our holidays and adventures together, so we have them all in one place.

There are some things that I think are missing:

1) 64-bit client support.  My laptop runs Windows Vista x64.  Admittedly, I can always map a network drive to get there, so this didn’t slow me down.  But as a novice, home-user, it lacks the elegance that is everywhere else in Windows Home Server.

2) Back-ups of the Home Server itself.  Remember, my world is backup, so this would have been a big hole for me.  The rest of the system is soooo sweet, I would hate to have to cludge a backup for it.

3) Groups, instead of just Users.  I have three kids, and a few external users like Grandparents.  It would be nice if I could create a few groups and then manage their permissions to various areas within groups.  Not a big deal, but as an old MCSE, I miss groups.  Admittedly, since I only have 9 users defined, its a convenience more than a hardship.

GOOD NEWS – 64-bit and Home Server Backups are coming with Power Pack 1 was announced around CES and is due out shortly.  And with Christmas over, I am starting to see them back in stock at my favorite retailers.  So, being out of excuses, I bought one and could not be happier.

I’ll share more on my home server as the family starts really using it, but if you were thinking about it – stop thinking and go get one.

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